U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have proposed changes to the existing rules of the Religious Worker Visa category. The new rules are focused on mainly two things; first, to remove any opportunity for fraud and second, to streamline the program.
Why USCIS is changing the current rules?
The Religious Visa category has been under the investigation since the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported incidents of fraud in this program in 1999. The report included incidents fraud involving false statements by petitioners regarding length of association with said religious organization, work experience, and the position being applied for. The report pointed to a definite lack of integrity and checks in the program which allowed for such incidents.
USCIS has since directed its Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) to assess this program. Together with GAO’s report, the FDNS assessment showed a 33% of fraudulent incidents which it considered a justifiable and compelling motive to propose new rules for the R-1 religious worker program.
What are the changes proposed for R-1 Visa category?
- The new rule will require the filing of a petition in every instance. As of now, an individual can simply request a religious worker visa at a consular post or at the port-of-entry, without being subject to much verification.
- Under the proposed rule, the employing U.S. organization will have to submit the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) or Petition for a Special Immigrant (Form I-360).
- The employers will also be required to submit an Attestation (included in Forms I-129 and I-360) verifying the worker’s qualifications, job description and the legitimacy of the organization.
- The proposed rule states that USCIS may conduct on-site inspections of the employing organizations to check its validity.
- Petitioning organizations/employer must prove they fall under the religious organization category by submitting a letter from the Internal Revenue Service showing that it is exempt from taxation under this category.
- Organizations not classified as “religious organizations” by the Internal Revenue Service have to complete the Religious Denomination Certification in the revised Forms I-129 and I-360.
- The proposed rule will change the current initial period of stay for R-1 workers from three years to one. Two extensions of two years each will be considered depending on whether the terms of the R-1 visa have been met or not.
- An R-1 can now be petitioned for by the prospective or existing employer only. The religious worker will no longer be able to obtain an R-1 visa directly.
- USCIS proposes to include prior work experience that is not in the same position as the job offered. This will allow for breaks in the continuity of the required two-year prior experience.
- Several changes are being made to existing definitions and many more definitions added to streamline the verification process in future.